Central Hall - Southampton, England
01 February 1997
Concert Review © 1997 Russell W Elliot and Richard Moloney
Background © 1996 Ron Lindeboom
Last Updated: 05 February 1997
The atmosphere was electric with excitement as Iona came to a tiered platform with the bottom level a full five feet above the audience in Central Hall, Southampton, England; this was only the second concert in their 1997 UK tour. With a very modern and professional light show and smoke machine puffing to bring additional concert ambiance to the venue, the artists positioned themselves in front of their respective instruments while the audience welcomed the band with huge applause and wild cheers.
Just completing a limited tour of several other UK venues and a double live album in December 1996, Iona is back on the road and if the concert attendance -- and the hundred-plus strong queue a full hour before the show began -- is any indication of their growing popularity, it's obvious that this highly integrated six-artist ensemble are going to be one of the biggest progressive Celtic bands of the late 1990s. Simply stated, an Iona performance is an event not to be missed.
David Bainbridge took his place way above the audience and during the evening played electric and acoustic guitars brilliantly and added tremendous texture alternating with sampling keyboards. Positioned alongside him was Phil Barker on bass. In the centre of the band for all but one encore sat Terl Bryant who brought rhythm and texture to the band's sound with his drums and an extremely wide variety of highly effective percussion. In the very front, stage right, Mike Haughton played woodwinds, including saxophones, flute and tin whistle. He also provided great backing vocals. On stage left was Troy Donockly with his (many) low whistles and fabulous Uillean pipes. During the evening Troy also played electric and acoustic guitars and countless other instruments - a consummate professional at all of them.
And in prime position front and centre, was stunning lead vocalist and band spokesperson, Joanne Hogg who has incredible stage presence. Joanne played acoustic guitar or keyboard in many of the numbers and transferred her obvious passion for the band's music into the audience with her soaring vocals, infectious smiles, person-to-person audience and band eye contact and flowing physical movements to boldly illustrate the music.
With bright lights above, behind and in front of them, the band began to play their set. The smoke machine puffed and puffed underneath Terl -- at times hiding him completely -- and the highly professional concert atmosphere that would fill the evening commenced. With seats in the centre of the front row we were in the best position to see and hear what was to be an absolutely outstanding concert in all respects.
The band's comprehensive set for the evening included tracks from all of Iona's albums: Journey Into The Morn, Beyond These Shores, Book of Kells and Iona. One previously unreleased track was played; it will be included on the forthcoming live double CD due due for release in April (UK). Here is the set list:
"Bí-se i mo shúil - Part 1" was performed almost as an introduction with vocals and keyboard only and served as a perfect warmup as the band found their sound in the venue, described after the show by Joanne Hogg as "swimmy." But the sound worked fine for us! As "Treasure" began, tears came to my eyes as the full richness and depth of Iona's arrangements came to life. Joanne's vocals and acoustic guitar made the song very special for us. The audience went wild with applause and cheers demonstrating their approval when the song concluded.
Joanne introduced "Flight Of The Wild Goose" talking briefly about the conclusion of their 1996 tour and the band's forthcoming live album. Jo said that the song has been rearranged; it worked well and sounded great featuring a wide range of performances by each of the artists.
"Today" opened with Joanne's vocals accompanied by Terl's drums. Played absolutely flawlessly with the audience clapping along at times, it was received quite well. Joanne talked to the audience again, and said that she was from Ireland as she introduced "Irish Day." The track was performed outstanding live, with Joanne again playing acoustic guitar and all of the artists working together really well. In fact it was at this point in the evening that the synergy between and collaboration amongst the artists became extremely evident. This is a band that works really well together. The song has tremendous single potential and we're sure when the video is released that this song is really going to take off.
Dave Bainbridge's sampling keyboards brought the sound of the ocean and a rich accompaniment into the venue for the track "Luke - The Calf" from The Book Of Kells. Troy Donockly's oustanding low whistle played the melody while a brilliant white light from behind him convinced many in the audience that a greater power stood behind him. Many bands would never contemplate playing such a track live, but Iona did so with a flair unmatched in the industry.
With a count to five, Dave and Troy synchronised their acoustic guitars for the introduction to "Inside My Heart" while Jo sang the lead vocal part with Mike's backing vocals. The instrumental segment of the song was oustanding with Dave's soaring lead electric guitar taking over after Jo demonstrated the outstanding echo facility of the band's audio system -- a feature that was used effectively several times during the evening. Jo's keyboard provided an oustanding -- almost orchestral -- conclusion to the song.
In the same sequence as on the album, Jo then began the song "Encircling." Again tears ran down the side of my face just from the thought that Iona was about to play one of my very favourite tracks for the next eleven or so minutes. Jo used the echoes again to perfect effect, just like on the album, while the acoustic instruments and electronic keyboards led into Troy's Uillean pipes and Mike's woodwinds. The song flowed from movement to movement with perfect transitions and built with Dave's lead electric guitar playing melody while Terl's drums took command of the rhythm. When Jo's vocals returned for "Tara" the band was again in full swing. The final movement "Caim" brought the song to a fantastic conclusion and wild applause and cheers from a delighted audience followed.
Jo introduced "I Will Give My Love An Apple" explaining that she sang this traditional song as a child with her sister. The band decided to play it and record it recently and it will be on the forthcoming live album. The song begins with Jo's stunning vocal solo before progressing onto an excellent instrumental. Jo's vocals conclude the song.
The second portion of the concert began with a powerful live rendition of "The Island." Joanne's illustration of "break the chains" during the chorus made the song very special for all of us. Then returning to the album from Journey Into The Morn with a track featuring some of the most powerful drums and bass we've ever heard, the band played "Everything Changes." Jo's passion came through in the lead vocals while Mike's backing vocals and Dave's keyboards added texture to the song as they achieved almost studio quality sound in the performance.
With Dave playing keyboard chords lightly, with her eyes scanning the entire audience, Joanne passionately told us about her dream in which she floated above the island and how it led to her creation of the song "Iona." Amost a vocal solo, the song was stunning and the concert would have been incomplete without it.
With keyboards flowing out of "Iona," an extremely bright light lit behind Troy as he began the song "Columcille" playing tin whistle. As the song developed with the sampling keyboard the light became brighter and segmented eventually turning blue then green. Troy then changed to the Uillean pipes -- the song is a fantastic testament to Troy's talent and the audience demonstrated their appreciation with wild applause and cheers following his outstanding performance.
The "Heavens Bright Sun" instrumental was next and the lights were used to tremendous effect behind Terl to create the song's atmosphere. Again Troy's wonderful Uillean pipes brought out the traditional elements of the song and Jo used the echoes to fill the venue with a wonderful mixture of progressive yet traditional sounds. Iona proved they can be a very loud band and this track is where the concert started to get really loud. By the end of this song, as Jo predicted in her introduction, quite a few people were passionately dancing in front of the band and having one heck of a good time.
Jo then introduced "Chi-Rho" from The Book Of Kells which was played with outstanding vocals and Mike's soaring saxophone solo. The lights worked wonderfully in conjunction with the lyrics "Colour of green ... Colour of gold ..." The whole performance of the song was brilliant!
"Bí-se i mo shúil - Part 2" followed and was played with tremendous energy and emotion, especially as the woodwinds and Uillean pipes were used in the instrumental portion of the song. Dave's lead guitar again came to life as the song finished.
The final track of the main set and perhaps the very loudest of the evening was "Kells." In this song, Jo's vocals soared with passion and are accompanied by tremendously powerful instrumentals and almost ear-piercing drums which Terl played with four sticks -- two in each hand. The power of the song filled our bodies and the souls and the sound was so strong it could have brought the walls of the venue crumbling down. The applause and cheers following the song were shattering as most of the audience stood demanding the band's return to the stage.
The band returned in their encore to play "No Heart Beats," an outstanding group of traditional reels, and finally the track "When I Survey." "No Heart Beats" was the perfect song to begin the encore set with it's slightly more popular sound and segments where Joanne is backed with the other artists' vocals. Again, Jo's illustration of the lyrics was outstanding and with no distinct instrumental riffs in "No Heart Beats," the reels fell naturally out of it with all of the artists working really well together progressing from individual reel to reel. The audience was wild with enthusisam.
When the reels concluded, Troy played an expanded introduction to "When I Survey" on electric guitar, with Dave accompanying him on keyboard. Jo's lead vocals were outstanding and many of the audience standing, dancing in front of the band, showed their appreciation by singing along. Terl stepped away from his drum kit to play a hand drum for a good portion of the song and then returned at the climax to his kit. The combination of Jo's voice and Terl's bongo were just outstanding and crystal clear. It was a very nice concluding number and one that the audience thought was outstanding based on their extended applause, cheers and number of people standing to show their approval.
All in all, Iona are a superb band to see perform live and they must be seen and heard in this format to gain a full appreciation of how these musicians work both individually and collectively. Their stage performance is outstanding; the lights and sound together with the band's support team are first rate in every respect. Don't miss them!